Intensity

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We all have limited time. Traditional, simplistic exercise recommendations call for 3 hours of “activity” a week, plus a couple of weight training sessions lasting about an hour. This is great if you don’t have anything else to do. Here at the gym, most of our athletes are lucky to grab an hour a day, and that includes getting to the gym, working out, showering, and getting back to work.

Is it a waste of time to exercise for just 30 minutes? 20? 10?

Not at all. Volume and intensity are the two main attributes of any workout. Volume is how much you do and intensity is how hard you do it. Overwhelming evidence suggests that intensity is far more important to health, longevity, and weight loss than volume is.

The real key to progress in your training is not to go longer on your workouts, but to get more done in less time. If you walk for an hour, you might cover 4 miles. But if you run very fast, you can cover that same distance in half the time. Your net work is exactly the same (about 400 calories), but you saved yourself 30 minutes.

Even better, intense exercise has a profound effect on metabolism, making it the ONLY choice for people who’d like to lose weight.

Turn it up a notch this winter, and look for great results. For tips on how to do this, feel free to ask any of our trainers, or check out one of our new class offerings. Burly Girls and The Program are great ways to push your fitness up a level.

Shelli Johnson's Fitness Journey

This is POST 9 of my “fitness journey” blogging. For backstory, see Post 1,
Post 2Post 3Post 4Post 5Post 6Post 7 and Post 8.]

Hi.

Hi.

Probably a better headline for this post would be:GETTING FIT IS HARD TO DO.

It has been almost 6 months since I decided to get out of my sedentary rut and back into good physical condition.

In late March, I hired personal trainer Steve Bechtel and joined Elemental Gym. I also broke up with bread, potatoes, pasta, French fries, ice cream and cookies. I gave up “sleeping in” until 5:30 am , instead opting to go to the gym at 4:30 am three times a week. I let go of my previous thinking that you had to log significant time in “fat burning zone” on a treadmill or elliptical trainer several times a week or go jogging several miles a week in order to lose fat and weight. And, I made sure to work out even whenI’m traveling.

I’m happy to report that at my third weigh-in, body fat check and strength testing today, it’s all paid off. In six months, I’ve lost 23 pounds, 12.4% bodyfat, and increased my strength and endurance. I’ve climbed the Grand Teton and completed several 20-mile-plus mountain dayhikes that I completed with leftover fuel in the tank and no sore muscles or injuries. Also, for all of you who are afraid and concerned that strengthening and high intensity gym work will make you “bulkier,” which I too was concerned about – it’s simply not true. I’ve gotten significantly stronger while losing literally inches in my arms and legs.

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By far, the most important and significant result of the past six months of hard work and getting fit is the fact that today I am a new person: a happy, healthy, fit and more energetic one.

My husband, Jerry, with our three young sons, Wolf, Fin and Hayden, ages 9, 2 and 7. We lead an active, outdoorsy life. I'd like to keep it that way.

My husband, Jerry, with our three young sons, Wolf, Fin and Hayden, ages 9, 2 and 7. We lead an active, outdoorsy life. I’d like to keep it that way.

What is this worth?
A lot. For almost four years, up until this past March, I was going to bed each night with an enormous amount regret and self criticism that in my head that went something like this: “I’m so out of shape. I can’t believe I’ve let myself go. I can’t do everything I want to do because I’m getting heavier, and lazier, less confident, and less ambitious. I’m embarrassed. I must look lazy. Why did I quit working out? Why did I eat that ice cream? Why did I not work again today?” And the list went on and on.

This happened every night as I lay awake during the last moments of each day. These thoughts weighed heavily on me, and I feel certain they took away from the quality of my life for a period of three or four years.

Also I remember in early March a walk I went on with a good friend around what we call the “Tomato Loop,” which is basically a 3-mile country loop route that is accessed from town. I was telling her that I had about “20 to 25 pounds to lose” to get back in tip-top shape and to what I figured was my ideal weight, my “most healthy” weight.

It was daunting to me even to hear myself utter those words because 20-25 pounds is a significant amount of weight. And I didn’t think I would have the patience to see it through. I was sure it would take a couple of years to lose that much. Impatience is probably my single biggest shortcoming. Having to endure two more years before I would realize my desired weight loss, well, wasn’t something I accepted easily. Talk about pain. What I was talking about would be hard in every aspect. It would cost me emotionally, physically, financially. And it would cost me my time, which as a mother of three young sons, I place the highest of values on.

And yet, six months later, I stand here today having achieved that goal. Those nagging regrets and the self criticism I used to confront myself with every night before going to sleep are now gone.

But as Steve sometimes reminds me in our conversations, results may vary.You know the sayings: You get out what you put in. Garbage in, garbage out. You do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Nothing worthwhile comes easy.

The only reason I have been successful in just six months’ time is because I attacked the problem from all angles. Two facts I was 100% clear about when I consulted Steve and ETC for the first time on March 21: I’m impatient, and I’m not afraid of hard work. The fitness regimen that I have embarked upon capitalizes on these two realities. And I knew if I did my part – made sacrifices and did a bunch of hard work – then it would be possible for me to achieve my goal in a shorter amount of time.

I adjusted my diet to include only healthy foods and decreased the number of calories I consumed to 10% of my body weight. I worked out 5-6 days a week, including high intensity in just about every session. I remained accountable and committed. For me, hiring a personal trainer helps significantly with this aspect. Having some form of “contractual” agreement has the effect of being more binding.

Steve talks to me often about the need for commitment when it comes to fitness and our health. He tells me how Elemental Gym’s membership experiences cycles. That it’s uncommon to have members that stay committed throughout the year. We are masters at procrastinating when it comes to our health.

We all know how the story goes. Most of us have lived it before; it’s not unique. Something else always gets in the way. For a few months of the year, or a half of a year, or for several years, for whatever reason, many of us will demote fitness to the bottom of, or off of our, list of priorities, despite the fact that our health and care for it can extend and add vitality to our lives.

In my case, my husband and I have three young sons. We lead an active, outdoorsy life – and I want to keep it that way. It’s important to me that I’m able to keep up with them and “play” with them whether it’s wrestling with them on the floor, climbing mountains or snowboarding with them. Heck I have my own goals, too, like doing more 50k trail-running events and long, epic dayhikes and mountain climbs. I want to be an enthusiastic, energetic and confident wife and mother. And, I want to have as much drive as possible to perform my work. (Weight and fat loss, or improving our time in an event, are things we think of first when we think of getting more fit and working out hard, regularly. But I would argue the increase in energy, positive attitude adjustment and confidence are the real benefits)

When I think of how I was feeling last March, following a four-year slump in my fitness, and consider what I’ve accomplished since then, whatever this feeling is I have now is the exact opposite of regret.

I’m pretty certain that if I hadn’t made the bold changes that I did, beginning on March 23, I would not be on the floor dog-piling and wrestling with our three young sons, or racing them at the playground. I would be taking all these frolicking times sitting down, in passive, “spectator” mode. And what a gigantic bummer that would be, not only for them, but for me.

My four boys. I want to be able to do anything our boys do. And not be injured as a result of it!

My four boys. I want to be able to do anything our boys do. And not be injured as a result of it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes related to regrets, that I think are relevant to our delaying, or not, becoming fit and healthy:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do…” (Mark Twain)

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” (Sydney Smith)

“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” (Mercedes Lackey)

“You never regret working out.” (local friend and ETC member Deborah Ellis)

We can’t get time back. The health benefits of keeping physically fit are reported everywhere with scientific, supporting data. We all know being fit and healthy is good for us. And yet we so often don’t value its importance. Probably, because it’s hard work.

Giving up French fries, ice cream, chips, cookies and candy has been very difficult. Getting up at 4:30 am three mornings a week is hard. Doing high intensity strengthening and metabolic training with Steve Bechtel is not easy. Staying committed and eating right and still finding time to work out when I travel, which is often, is inconvenient. In fact, everything related to what I committed to six months ago when I embarked on this “fitness journey” is hard.

But I would argue that trying to live the life I want to lead, but not being able to, is even harder.

And even harder yet is knowing what changes need to be made to have the life you want, and yet not making those changes.

In summary, I am no expert, and far from perfect on the topic of physical fitness and weight loss. And I still have the task of remaining committed, even after having reached my initial goals. Being fit, after all, is a life-long journey, not an event. Also important for me to mention is my sincere thanks to my family and friends, Steve and ETC trainers, for their support. Without it, my fitness journey would be even more difficult.

Elemental Gym has a fantastic gym, some terrific programs and classes that will help you achieve better fitness. And, I might add, some great personal trainers: Steve BechtelEllen BechtelJagoe Reid, and Sophie Mosemann.

Where Is Your Mind?

This article was originally published in our April 2009 newsletter.

regrets

There’s more to exercise and training than just doing it. You’ve got to get yourself to the gym or on the road to do the training in the first place. By far the most important “muscle” in training is the brain. Your brain, or more specifically, your mind, can make or break your training program. We spend hours with our athletes working on helping them to motivate to train hard. For up to three hours a week, we have great success. The other 165 hours are a crapshoot; some do well and some fail completely.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of a new mental-training book by my friend Eric Horst last month. Some of what he wrote on the function of the conscious and sub-conscious mind really made sense to me and I think it could make a world of difference for some of our athletes. He wrote how conscious thought leads not only to your behavior but also to the subjective quality of your life. In effect, you recreate your life each day according to the thoughts you hold in your head. This is along the lines of the Buddha’s wisdom, “what we think, we become.”

Too many of us let thoughts of the past consume our conscious mind, and then imagine a dismal future based on an extrapolation of the past. It is essential to your future success to let go of these negative thoughts. But it’s not as easy as that. Your normal “way of thinking” may be anchoring you in rough seas. Your thoughts at any given moment are never neutral, they are either productive or counterproductive, they are either helping or hurting you. Each of us has a dominant mode, either a “doer mind” or a “critic mind.” Which one are you?

The Doer Mind:

– Forward thinking and process oriented

– Goal oriented and builds toward that goal

– Positive tone, finds enjoyment in each moment

– Spend more time working on thoughts and ideas, less time gossiping and complaining

The Critic Mind:

– Dwells on failures of the past

– Chronically analyzes and judges, looks for flaws in self and others

– Obsesses on bad results and apparent barriers to future progress

– Characterized by negative attitudes and self-doubt

– Looks for “downside” in all situations

– Frequently critical of others, controlling

– Have a “bad situation” that they “have no control over”

Recognizing which one you are (we are all combinations of both, but have tendencies toward one side or the other…) is a good starting point. Let’s say you are a critic, and are trying to get fit for a triathlon this summer. You are likely focused on how slow you run, rather than the fact that you have a nice bike and have been able to ride most days this spring. You likely looked at the course map and spotted all the terrain that is hard for you, rather than the nice, flat 5 mile stretch to the finish. You remember cramping up last time, and you’re worried it’ll happen again, which it probably will… You get the idea.

Understand that no matter how well you train, there are things both good and bad that can happen. It is important, too, to understand that the vast majority of successful people, not just athletes, are of the Doer mind, recognizing the reality of the situation, but acting positively toward their intended outcome. They seek success rather than trying to avoid failure.

How you approach your goal is paramount to your chances of success. Are you trying to get fast, or are you pretty sure you’re going to be slow again this year? Are you going to lose weight, or try yet another diet that probably won’t work? Becoming a Doer is hard work, and will require tremendous attention. The benefits will become apparent if you can turn that corner. Give it a try.

That Was Then…

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One of the first questions I ask new clients is “How much do you weigh?” This question is reserved for the part of the interview when I actually get them to say that they want to lose weight, working through the euphemisms “tone-up,” “get back in shape,” and “feel better” until they get to the REAL reason they’re in the gym. I almost never get a straight answer. It’s usually something like, “I used to weigh 120,” to which I respond, “So did I. How much do you weigh now?”

See, the past is the past. What you did in the past certainly affects what you can do today, but is rarely a predictor of what you will actually do. You are older now than you were then, almost certainly fatter, and you probably have “deserved” your way out of a few too many workouts. So, we start with a clean slate. We start with today.

I have always liked the Buddhists. At first it was the haircuts and the cool clothes, but more recently, I have come to like the idea of being present and mindful. Thich Nhat Hahn (It took me like 10 minutes to spell it right, and don’t you dare ask me to say it…) talks about our obsession with the past and the future, and out total disregard for the present. Funny, because the only one of the three we can affect is the present. You already messed up a bunch of stuff in the past, so put it behind you – you can’t un-mess it. In the future, you’re going to be better looking, richer, and smarter, right? Not unless you do something about it right-damn-now.

Also, you’ve got to take control of the things you can really control (yourself), and relinquish control over those things you can’t (everything else). So what if your wife bakes brownies at 9pm? Is it really her fault if you eat them? So what if your kids are begging you to go to McDonald’s? Even if you’ve not yet explained diabetes to them, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to get a McFlurry. Cultivate will. Make decisions in favor of your health. We talk a lot about how each decision either moves you toward or away from your goals. Only by making mindful choices that you’re certain will lead you in the right direction can you actually change your course.

You’ve got to stay on top of it, too. We hammer pretty hard against the idea that you “deserve” things. Just because you ran 4 or 5 miles doesn’t earn you half a pan of brownies (and I speak from experience.) Let’s see…4 mile run – burn 400 calories. Eat half a tray of brownies – take on 1700. Deserve too many treats and you’re gonna diminish your ability to run. OK, so you only do it once a week. Plus a glass of red wine to help you relax after sitting around all day at work. There’s your 3 pounds a year per person that Americans are expected to put on in the next decade. In ten years, and you know it’s coming like a runaway train, that’s 30 pounds. It’s going to take the world’s best trainer and a panel of nutritionists two years to get you back to today’s weight.

If you like where you are, build a house there. But if there are things you need to change, change them now, not tomorrow, because it’ll never be easier than it is today.